Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: Running Blind

Junira Loresh thronged with Koreshi, and Lyta ran through them, racing past the tent-city of Ratir that had sprung up for the summer competitions. She sprinted along the paths that had formed between the camps of various tribes, making her way toward the more permanent buildings of the Ferah, the Koreshi who lived in Junira Loresh year-long. Torgath was somewhere far behind her, tending to the armadillos, but Lyta hadn’t been able to wait. She had waited so long.

She reached the outer edge of the Ferah village and stopped, hands on her knees, sucking in breath. As a Ratir, she was not allowed to enter without permission, so she waited impatiently for someone to notice her.

An older man with scars on his arms found her after a few minutes, emerging from the homes within the village. He looked at her expectantly.

“I’m Hippartha of the Bathani Ratir,” Lyta said when she saw him. “Where’s Thralan Jonas?”

The Ferah looked at her for a moment, then shook his head. “I don’t know. He may be with the other Thrals. Follow me.”

Lyta followed. He walked so slowly. Lyta wanted to push him, just to speed him up. She hadn’t seen Jonas as she’d run into Junira Loresh, but there was no reason he’d be looking for her now. The Imti’qhaan had already started; it was nearly halfway done. Maybe Jonas just thought that they’d skipped this time, that they were busy, that they’d be back next cycle.

Her escort led her to a large house. Like many of the permanent buildings in Junira Loresh, it was made of wood and vines, the roof of thatch and leaves. But this one was larger than the others that surrounded it and more decorated. The Ferah pulled the cord on the wind-chimes in front of the door and nodded. “Wait here,” he said, and then he disappeared back into the tangle of houses, leaving Lyta alone.

She watched the door impatiently, straining to hear the sounds of movement inside. After a five-minute wait that seemed like five decades, the door creaked open.

The man who walked out was not Jonas. Lyta stared at him.

“Yes?” asked the man who emerged from the house. He was old, like Jonas, and he wore the garments of a Thral, but he was not Jonas.

“I’m Hippartha of the Bathani Ratir,” she said hesitantly. “May I speak with Thralan Jonas?”

The Thral from the house regarded her for a moment, then opened the door wider. “Come in,” he suggested. “Please.”

Lyta looked at him suspiciously before she stepped inside. The house was nicely furnished by Koreshi standards, with wall hangings and fine wood furniture. Her host poured water into two stone cups from a decanter and knelt down on the central rug, placing the cups carefully before him. He gestured for Lyta to join him.

She knelt down on the mat. She hated meditation. She hated prayers and she hated rituals and she just wanted to see Jonas. She wanted to tell him everything: about Ti and Alain and the diamond mines and Nazarene and Tom Chambers and Jimmy Croyden and all the rest. She could spend her whole time in Junira Loresh talking to him. He might have other duties, but he would see her. She was Bathani. She was his first tribe.

The Thral opened his eyes from meditation. “Thank you for making time to see me,” he said in ritualistic opening.

“I’m honored you share your shade, Thralan,” she said, but she didn’t mean it.

“You ask after Thralan Jonas,” he said.

Lyta nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. Where is he?”

The older man looked at her and took a sip from his water-cup. “Thralan Jonas is not here,” he said.

Lyta’s jaw fell open. “What? Where is he?”

The Thral’s eyes focused on the middle distance, somewhere behind Lyta. "The father of the elder gods whispered from the distant west, and he has answered their call for help. He is on a walkabout, and when he returns he will have the answer we all seek."

Lyta stared. “But… but when will he be back? When will I see him?”

“The ways of the seekers are not for us to know,” he replied. “He will return when the gods have provided him with the knowledge that is required.”

Lyta wanted to scream. But screaming wouldn’t do anything. It wouldn’t bring Jonas back faster. Her heart sank. She stood up. “Thank you for seeing me, Thralan,” she said, her voice flat.

“I am sorry he is not here for you, child,” said her host, rising as well. “He is greatly missed.”

Lyta looked around the nice house, with its wood furniture and its wall hangings. “Yeah,” she said. “I bet he is.”

She walked out the door and let it thump shut behind her.


The lookout over the waterfall was her private sanctum; it was where she went to be alone in Junira Loresh. And since she felt alone, even amidst the crowds of Ratir, she figured she might as well come to the place where her vision and hearing were taken up by the roar of water.

The mist that sprayed up from the base of the waterfall coated her skin and settled on her cheeks. It was like the world was crying for her, when all she could do was stare. Jonas wasn’t here.

Someone cleared his throat behind her, and she turned to see the elderly Thral that had greeted her the day before, the one who had told her Jonas was gone. “May I join you?” he asked.

Lyta sighed. There wasn’t any point in pushing him away. And he was a Thral. Maybe he would be like Jonas. Maybe he would know what to do anyway. She nodded.

The newcomer settled himself to the ground beside her with stiff motions. “Your heart is troubled,” he observed. “Do you wish to speak, to let the words release the pain that flows within?”

Lyta shook her head. “No,” she managed. Not to him, not to someone who didn’t know her.

He looked out in the same direction she did, at the vast waterfall and the plants that grew around it. “The Great Cycle tells that at the time of turning, paths are laid where before was only twisted vines and briars,” he said. “And those chosen to walk the sacred paths do honor to the gods of the desert.”

Lyta tore her eyes from the waterfall to stare at him. “I have no idea what that means.”

He looked back at her. He looked old. The lines on his face were etched deep. “There is no course so clear that it can be followed without thought,” he said, “but none so hidden that it cannot be found.”

Lyta wanted, desperately, to know what he was saying, to find the wisdom in his words. She wanted him to be like Jonas, to say something cryptic and then explain it so she’d understand what it meant. But the Thral just gazed at her, waiting for her answer. She shook her head. “I don’t understand, Thralan,”

He nodded. “The pain that comes from placing a foot upon the thorns cuts deep,” he reflected. “And it lasts the entire journey, unless the foot is hardened by walking the path.”

Lyta had had enough. She didn’t understand, and she was too tired to make the effort. She bit her tongue to stop herself from lashing out at the Thral who was not Jonas. “I think I’d rather be alone,” she said to him, glaring.

With a sigh, the Thral stood. “May your heart find comfort in the heart of the desert.” He gave a small bow and left, leaving Lyta alone.

She stared at him as he went. She hated him. She hated him and all the rest of the Thrals and everyone in Junira Loresh. She wanted Jonas. She wanted Bestha and Amaraa. She wanted Ti.

She pulled her knees up to her chest and began to cry, long heaving sobs that were drowned out by the sound of the waterfall.

She cried for a long time.


The thirteenth course of the B’Ti lay before her, and Lyta studied it with a practiced eye. The hardest part about running a course the first time, she reflected, was that you never knew the best way to go. In the early courses, the obvious path was usually the correct one, the stones polished smooth by the hands of thousands of Koreshi, the knots in tree limbs expanded by thousands of feet. But here, at the higher levels, the obvious choice was rarely right. An easy-to-access ledge, for example, might reveal no easy way to get down from the far side.

Lyta stood on the tiny outcropping and realized her mistake. It had been easy enough to roll through the tunnel of foliage until she’d reached the far side, but now the jungle floor was dozens of feet below her with no obvious way to reach it. No vines, no handholds, no branches. She sighed. She hadn’t expected to make it through the first time in anything close to seven minutes. It was why she had chosen to run days before the course was open to official competitors. Still, it galled her to have to turn back.

At least the ledge gave her a decent vantage point to survey the next segment of the course. If she had only emerged from the upper tunnel, the one that required a pole vault and a double-leap through the trees to reach, she would have been far better positioned to access the canopy and its tightly-woven vines. She calculated how far she would have to backtrack to reach the branches she would need to leap for the higher opening, and then, with a grumble, she turned around and headed back the way she had come.


Lyta and Torgath shared their small tent in the sea of Ratir. It was noisy outside, but inside it was quiet, the oil lamp lending a soft glow to their faces and the meal they shared.

Torgath fidgeted. “Lyta,” he asked after a while. Lyta looked up. “Um… you don’t seem to be fine. Are you okay?”

Lyta sighed and put down her spoon. She should have known she couldn’t hide her feelings from Torgath, not here in Junira Loresh. “I miss Jonas,” she said. “And I miss Ti.”

“Oh.” Torgath was silent for a few seconds, processing this. “I miss Jonas too.”

They were silent for a while, Torgath watching her in the dim light of the tent. “I miss Ti a lot,” she said softly. “I wanted… I never got to tell him I loved him. I never got to tell him goodbye. I thought maybe I’d gotten over it after. Vulpei… Do you remember Vulpei, that guy we bodyguarded back in Port Arthur?” Torgath nodded. “He called me after we got out of the mines. He’s good with feelings and stuff. He helped me… I thought he helped me get over Ti. He said he loved me too.” Lyta’s voice was quiet as she spoke, with a slight tremor. “I saw him once, right before the Doc’s gala thing. I thought maybe… Well, it wouldn’t have been like Ti, but maybe there was something there. I don’t know. Anyway, he left. He’s in deep cover now. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again.”

She shook her head, thinking back over the last cycle. Most of her tears had been cried out back at the waterfall, leaving only an aching dull pain in their wake.

Torgath stared at her intensely. “In Brandon Penzack’s Spider in the South, Alec Dumoire goes into deep cover for almost the whole book, but then he gets to go back to Cecile at the end.”

Lyta nodded. Torgath was trying to be helpful. He was trying to tell her she might see Alain again. “Yeah,” she said. “Do they get married or something?”

“They take the money that he stole from the corrupt bankers and open a gallery in Aquitaine,” he said.

Lyta thought about this. “I don’t think I’m ever going to open a gallery,” she said.

“No,” said Torgath. “But maybe you’ll open a gym or something. Or a dojo. And you can teach people how to be ninja assassins like in Operation: Spy War.”

“Maybe.” Lyta couldn’t help but smile. Somehow, with Todd, everything came back to books. On the other hand, when he talked only in book titles, it usually meant something was on his mind. “Look, you okay?”

Torgath fidgeted. “I’m fine,” he said.

Lyta licked her lips. “Really? ‘Cause a lot of stuff’s happened lately. And I’ve got some people to talk to, but I don’t know if you do.”

“I have people to talk to.” He didn’t look at her.

Lyta narrowed her eyes. “Yeah?”

Torgath nodded enthusiastically. “In Business as Usual by Margery Sanders, John Python has all sorts of communication networks all over the world so that he doesn’t tell any person too much.”

“Right…” Lyta said. “But what about you? You’re not John Python.”

Torgath looked at his hands. “I have people.”

“Is one of those people Dawn?”

Torgath shook his head so vigorously that his hair flopped down in front of his eyes. “Dawn’s gone. I don’t like her.”

“But you’re still talking with her.”

“No… I’m talking with Summer.”

Lyta sighed. It was the same problem Lukas had had when he tried to talk to Torgath, but here in Junira Loresh, it wasn’t like they were doing anything else. “She tried to kill Lukas,” Lyta said, trying to be reasonable.

“No, she tried to save Lukas!” Torgath said. “She only shot him in places where he wouldn’t die!”

Lyta rolled her eyes. “She shot Lukas.”

Torgath’s head lolled back and forth in ambivalence. “Okay,” he admitted, “but she also saved him. She told us where the Kolson guy was holding him.”

Lyta stared in disbelief. “She did?”

Torgath nodded. “Well, she had a list of four places, but one of them was where Lukas was, so we could go get him!”

Lyta thought back to the bloody rescue mission, to the debriefing beforehand where Todd had brought out his list from ‘reliable sources.’ “That was Dawn?”

“Yeah. So… So it’s all okay now, right?”

Lyta processed this. Maybe she had been wrong about the NGIS agent. Chambers certainly thought she knew something about the Borodin Package that she hadn’t told them yet, and – if she could be believed – she was keeping information about them from her superiors, like the fact that they were still alive. Lyta turned her spoon over in her hands. “It’s better than it was,” she agreed. “But you can’t go talking to her without telling Lukas.”

“I’m not talking to her,” Torgath said, too quickly.

Lyta sighed. “How did you get the information on where Lukas was if you’re not talking to her?”

“I’m talking to Summer.”

Lyta closed her eyes to stop herself from rolling them. “You can’t talk to Summer without telling Lukas.”

“Why not?”

Lyta tried to find an answer that would satisfy him. “Because Lukas needs to know what other people know about us, or else we can’t do our job properly.”

“I don’t tell her anything about us,” Torgath retorted. “We talk about books.”

“You always talk about books.” Lyta pointed out. “But when you talk about books, you talk about us.”


“Look,” Lyta said, “I think it’s good you have someone to talk to. And maybe I was wrong about Daw—Summer. Maybe I was wrong about her. Maybe we can start new with her or something. But if you keep hiding things from Lukas, bad stuff’s gonna happen. He’ll understand. I’ll help you. We can tell him together.”

Torgath watched her, expectant. “In Operation: Mind War, the infiltration teams always have two people so that they can back up each other’s stories.”

Lyta nodded. “Yeah. Just like that.”


She’d made good time through the first two sections of the course, all things considered. She’s remembered to take the higher path to the ledge, managed to swing through the canopy vines to the far branches, where she perched against the trunk of the tree, charting her course down. The trees here were less like parallel bars, as they were in the first few levels of the B’Ti, and more like an accidentally-strewn pile of staves, jutting at strange angles and just as likely to twist you the wrong way as lead you to your destination.

Lyta’s eyes moved back and forth along the tangle of wood and nodded to herself. With a shout, she threw herself downward, caught a branch, and let herself swing lower. Another branch, another handhold, down and down and—

She felt the snap before she saw the effects: a branch that she’d grabbed had been weaker than she’d expected, and it swung low into another limb, stopping with a jagged abruptness. Lyta lost her grip and was flung forward, down into one branch and then another, and she reeled, desperately trying to grab onto something.

She landed hard on her back, the breath knocked out of her. The tree’s branches waved softly above her, and she cursed them. Her head hurt and her back hurt and her wrist twinged. She groaned and stood up. “I will get you,” she told the tree firmly. “This is not the end.”

She brushed herself off, touched her wrist gingerly to make sure nothing was broken, and then started running again.


There was a woman sitting by the waterfall.

Lyta was embarrassed. She had never seen anyone in her private sanctum before. She wondered if she shouldn’t just leave whoever it was and come back later, when she could be alone.

The woman must have heard her, and she turned around before Lyta could duck out of sight. “Sorry,” Lyta muttered. “I didn’t know— I’m not used to seeing anyone here.”

The woman was about Lyta’s age, with the angular features of the Ferah. “It’s all right,” she said.

“I can come back later,” Lyta said.

The woman looked at her for a moment. Her eyes were not red, were not puffy, but Lyta felt sad in sympathy just looking at her. “No,” she said, “the gods have seen fit to guide you here at the same time as me. Stay if you like.”

Lyta hesitated. She didn’t want to intrude on the other woman, and she would rather have been alone herself, but even the thought of walking back into the mass of Koreshi fatigued her. She settled herself on the grass of the lookout. “I’m Hippartha,” she said, “of the Bathani Ratir.”

“Selani,” said the woman who had been there first, “of the Rennit Ferah.”

For a few minutes, they were quiet, watching the waterfall and listening to its thunder. But the other woman’s presence pricked at Lyta, and she felt forced to make conversation. “I’m sorry if I disturbed you.”

“You didn’t disturb me.” Selani’s voice was flat. “No more than I disturbed you.”

“Thralan Jonas says this is a good place to come when your heart wants to join the heart of the desert,” Lyta hazarded.

Selani nodded. “Yes. It’s a good place for when your heart is troubled.”

Lyta knew she probably shouldn’t ask, but she did anyway. “Why’s your heart troubled?”

Selani looked at her, quiet for a long time. “My son is dead,” she said softly. “He died before he ever left my body.”

The curse came back to her, how the Koreshi were doomed to have far more than their share stillborn children. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“As am I.”

She remembered back to her days with the Bathani, when she’d had her first blood and left childhood, how the elder women of the tribe had performed a ritual over her to bring her fertility and live babies. She remembered wondering whether the curse applied to adopted Koreshi like her. She had been too young to realize that it was tied to genetics, not culture.

“And you,” asked Sileni. “Your heart is also troubled?”

Lyta nodded. “Yeah.” Sileni was quiet, inviting Lyta to speak without pushing her. “The man I love is dead,” she said at last. “I think maybe the things I did helped lead to his death.”

“I’m sorry,” said Sileni in an echo of Lyta’s previous condolence. “That must be difficult.”

‘Not as difficult as losing a baby,’ Lyta thought, but she didn’t say it.

They lapsed into silence again as the waterfall fell in front of them, the roar a constant in their ears.

“You… you’ll be able to have more kids,” Lyta said after a while. “More sons.”

Sileni nodded. “If the gods will it. And you will find more men to love. Perhaps they will give you sons as well.”

Lyta did not want children. The thought of an infant that she had to care for, so tiny and helpless, something her enemies could steal away and keep for ransom while her heart broke… She didn’t want to think about it. But she couldn’t tell that to Sileni, who wanted a son and had lost him. “Yeah,” Lyta said. “Maybe.”


Three days before the end of the Imti’qhann, the Ferah hosted the Jonus Kerasi to a feast. There weren’t a lot of them, Lyta reflected, but probably not all of them were here. The whole point of being Jonus Kerasi was that you were out in the world, and you couldn’t always come back for the competitions.

Still, the longhall was full, the few dozen Jonus Kerasi given places of honor amidst the much more numerous Ferah.

Lyta found herself sitting next to a boy a few cycles younger than her, who kept watching her with wide eyes as though she might sprout wings and fly away. It took him halfway through the meal to finally work up the courage to talk to her. “What do you do, when you’re out of the desert?”

Lyta wondered what she could tell him. That she got shot on a regular basis? Killed people? Infiltrated CEF diamond mines to extract known killers? Led lovers to their unwitting deaths? She shrugged. “We live in the world,” she said. “Travel. Learn things.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “Things like what?”

She wasn’t allowed to tell him about the Borodin Package, she was almost certain of that. And she wasn’t sure what else would interest him. She shrugged. “Things.”

This was not enough for him. “What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done?”

The question took her aback. She could think of plenty of terrifying things she’d done: the desperate battles, the botched missions, the psychopaths and terrorists who’d wanted to kill her. But she didn’t want to tell him that. She didn’t want to spoil his innocence about the outside world. She scoured her memories for something she could tell him that would be both interesting and true.

When the answer came to her, it was so obvious she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it at once. “Well,” she said, settling back into her chair, “there was this group of mercenaries, and to join them, you had to pass this thing they called ‘The Challenge…’”

By the time she was done talking, she had told him about the Brotherhood’s Challenge, about watching the Gear duels with Antoni Mor’s pit crew, about attending fancy balls in Port Arthur and Khayr ad-Din. She’d told him about fireworks over Prince Gable and playing a rigged poker game while her brother pretended to be a crooked vice cop. She had to keep backtracking as the boy asked clarifying questions about a world he had never seen and barely imagined, but that clearly fascinated him.

When she ran out of stories, it was long past midnight. There was barely anyone left in the longhall, and the lights had burned dim. “I’m jealous of you,” he said petulantly.

Lyta shook her head. “Why?” She was jealous of the Ferah. She would gladly stay in the jungle city forever if only she could convince the Thrals to let Lukas stay with her.

“You can go wherever you want,” said the boy. “Do anything you want. Be anything you want.”

Lyta stared at him. It hardly felt that way to her, but there was no way she could explain that to a person who had never left Junira Loresh and likely never would. “I don’t think you’d like it outside the desert,” she said.

“I don’t get to choose.”

He sighed and stood up. “Thank you for sharing my shade,” he said and bowed formally. Lyta nodded back, and before she could say anything else, the Ferah boy had left.


The crowds were watching her this time, as she stood at the entrance to the thirteenth course. She breathed deep, letting the rich jungle air fill her lungs. She had yet to beat seven minutes in her practice runs, but the onlookers galvanized her, and this time she was ready.

She pulled the cord to start the official timer and started at a sprint, flinging herself over and under obstacles, across the narrow bridges, through tunnels barely large enough to hold her. She vaulted and spun, all the while hearing people calling her name.

She stumbled midway through, missing a connecting branch and only catching a lower one. It took her precious seconds to regain ground, pull herself up, and get back on track.

As the course end was in sight, she stumbled again, losing her footing on a narrow bridge and nearly falling off. She heaved herself up with both hands, pulled her legs back onto the bridge, and raced the last few meters to the bright red circle that marked the course’s end. She fell against it, panting.

It would be close, she thought. Too close. “Seven twenty-four,” came a voice from above her. She groaned, and heard an echoing groan from the crowd that lined the course.

She walked off the course, letting the next competitor enter and try their luck. ‘Next time,’ she thought to herself. ‘I’ll get it for sure next time.’


Jireni flew.

This was her fifteenth cycle trying to master the nineteenth course of the B’ti. She had gotten further than anyone in a generation.

From what Lyta had heard, Jireni had blossomed early, running the first courses when she was barely a child, as Lyta had. By her twenty-fifth birthday, she had already completed the sixteenth course. From there, it was another three cycles to complete the seventeenth and another four for the eighteenth. And then she had struggled as she tried, over and over, to beat the nineteenth.

She was nearly fifty now. Lyta heard the whispers in the crowd, that she was getting too old, that her reflexes would slow and her strength would fail, that her chances for success decreased with each passing cycle.

Lyta didn’t know how she could do it at all. The nineteenth course was impossible, making the thirteenth look as easy as the first in comparison. Jireni found handholds barely big enough to place her fingers, launched herself from walls with enough force to pass entirely to the other side of the course. She contorted herself into such tiny crevices Lyta couldn’t imagine a woman half her size fitting. And she did it all without slowing down, not even once.

She made good time, excellent time.

Lyta let herself be drawn into the excitement of the crowd. With each passing second, with each perfect maneuver, the fevered pitch of the crowd mounted. “Jireni,” Lyta shouted, joining her voice to the cacophony, “you can do it!”

The ground was far below her as Jireni swung across the canopy, grasping at tiny tangles of vines spread far apart as the river rushed swiftly underneath. She flung her arms forward passed through a hole in a sheer rock-face with millimeters to spare, then tucked herself into a tight ball and rolled across a tree branch, opened up and sprinted straight up a cliff, the footholds hardly bigger than her toes, free-falling down the other side until she grasped a vine at the last minute and flung herself upward again.

The end was in sight. Lyta shouted and screamed. “Jireni! Jireni!” called the crowd.

With a final burst of speed, Lyta would swear for cycles to come that Jireni ignored the laws of gravity and physics, launched herself straight up, grasped a narrow stone, flung herself sideways, and slammed her hand onto the painted red circle.

She stumbled past it, her hand holding her in place as her body lost its momentum from its final jump.

The crowd went quiet as it waited for the official time. It was as if the world was holding its breath.

“Six fifty-four!”

The Koreshi exploded in noise. “Jireni!” they shouted. “Jireni! Jireni!” Lyta shouted with them, lost in the sea of noise and movement and people. “Jireni!”


The Imti’qhann was over. Many of the Ratir tribes had already left, getting out of Junira Loresh quickly before the crush of the exodus. Her time wouldn’t count, not for this cycle. But the thirteenth course taunted her.

She stood at the entrance and focused. For practices, the start cord was connected to a water-clock with enough liquid to run out over seven minutes. No one would know her time but her. No one was watching but the Prophet.

She pulled the cord and ran, letting her mind and her body stay limber as she grabbed the next handhold, jumped the next wall, climbed the next vine. She pieced the puzzle together as she ran, letting herself feel as much as think, letting her intuition show her the right way.

The course passed by in a blur, one obstacle replacing another as she moved past them. Somewhere, she felt Jireni’s ghost running beside her.

She reached the end and pressed her hand onto the painted circle, stopping the clock. She closed her eyes, breathing hard. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ she thought to herself. ‘Just for fun.’

She opened her eyes and looked at the clock. It was marked every ten seconds. There was a tiny bit of water left in the bottom, hovering just below the ten-second mark. She smiled. No one had seen her do it, and she’d have to do it again, but she had done it nonetheless.

With a nod of satisfaction and her head held high, she walked off the course, ready to find Torgath and start making their preparations to go back into the wide world.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.